Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
Inflammation plays an important part in the body’s ability to heal itself and stay protected from illness, and other damage. But too much inflammation can have serious consequences — including chronic diseases that become debilitating for many people.
One of the beneficial aspects of the ketogenic diet is how it can be anti-inflammatory, and many people are turning to ketosis as a way to help manage and reduce symptoms from inflammation. This article is all about how one can use ketosis for reduced inflammation — and the best anti-inflammatory ketogenic foods.
How Ketosis Reduces Inflammation
Being in ketosis means the body is utilizing fat instead of sugar for energy, and it’s likely that you’ve heard sugar is inflammatory. Excess sugar causes the body to:
- Produce high amounts of insulin
- Raise inflammation markers
- Make free radicals, which are molecules that can inflame blood vessel linings and stimulate the body’s immune response
- Trigger chronic disease
Eating a ketogenic diet that is very low in sugar helps halt the surges of insulin from unregulated sugar levels that raise blood sugar and create inflammation in the body.
To understand this better, let’s take a closer look the relationship between inflammation, disease, and pain that often comes from both.
Inflammation, Pain, and Chronic Disease
Behind most chronic diseases, such as nerve damage, arthritis, or diabetes, is a high amount of inflammation. This often comes with a lot of pain, too.
There are many factors involved in chronic inflammation, including a sedentary lifestyle, high stress levels, exposure to toxins like tobacco smoke, or having a family history of inflammation. However, what we choose to eat every day plays a big part too.
Opiate drugs, which are most commonly used to treat pain, always come with potential serious side effects, not to mention the tendency to be addictive. Plus, this doesn’t always promise they’ll be effective.
Many people living with diseases resulting from inflammation are looking for alternative, non-addictive therapies for reducing the side effects, including pain. Not only does a ketogenic diet and being in ketosis help in reducing inflammation, it can also help ease related pain through:
- Decreased activity of the nervous system, which helps relieve pain perception
- Decreased reactive oxygen species, which are known to contribute to inflammation [*] [*]
- Increased adenosine, a natural chemical that is known to fight inflammation and act as a pain reliever [*] [*]
These responses demonstrate the ketogenic diet can help reduce pain and inflammation by increasing pain thresholds, making it more manageable. In addition, less inflammation itself can help reduce pain.
But what about the act of ketosis itself? Research has shown one of the ketones released during ketosis has benefits for inflammation.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate and Inflammation
Recent research has shown that beta-hydroxybutyrate can block what’s called the NLRP3 inflammasome, an immune system receptor linked to inflammation. [*] Here’s why:
The NLRP3 inflammasome reacts quickly to threats to the body, such as toxins, infections, or too much glucose. While helpful in many cases, this receptor can be activated too much if we’re constantly exposed to inflammation, like from eating inflammatory foods every day.
This could be a main reason people experience anti-inflammatory effects when following a ketogenic diet. By triggering ketosis, we may be able to help reduce how much the NLRP3 fires in the body.
Now, let’s look at how consuming carbohydrate foods relates to pain and inflammation in the body — and how ketosis can help remedy this.
Carbohydrates and Inflammation
After we eat something with excess carbohydrates (which are broken down to sugars), our blood glucose levels remain higher than usual. With constant intake of high-sugar foods, glucose can build up in the blood, which can cause inflammation. If the inflammation is chronic, it can lead to serious problems like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
In addition, these excess sugars get stored as fat in the body.
Eating to Reduce Inflammation
Although a whole foods-based ketogenic diet itself is anti-inflammatory, it’s important to note what foods are best for fighting or reducing inflammation — and which are not. Here’s a breakdown of the best anti-inflammatory keto foods and also the foods to avoid (which you typically do by default if following a healthy keto diet).
What to Eat: Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Here are some of the top ketogenic diet foods that are great for fighting inflammation:
Healthy fats like egg yolks (preferably pasture-raised), healthy oils like coconut oil, olive oil, MCT oil or powder, and avocado oil, nuts and seeds (stick to fattier nuts like almonds and macadamia nuts), fatty fish like shellfish, salmon, and sardines, avocados, grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut butter, and cocoa butter
Omega-3 fats are especially important for fighting inflammation. Make sure you get them from omega-3-rich eggs, wild or cold-water fish, or an omega-3 supplement if necessary.
Healthy meats that are grass-fed, pastured-raised fatty versions as much as possible. Good options are bison, beef, organ meats, lamb, and fatty fish.
Non-starchy vegetables like dark leafy greens: spinach, chard, collards, kale, cauliflower, or broccoli.
If you are traveling or on the go, anti-inflammatory supplements like Equip Turmeric Blend+ with its all-natural blend will help fight inflammation and boost metabolism.
What to Avoid: Inflammatory Foods
Stay away from foods that are high in sugars or processed ingredients. Specifically, here are some of the main things to avoid:
- Processed foods that are packaged and refined. That includes soy products, condiments, and frozen meals. (It’s best to stick with foods that don’t need a label as much as possible.)
- High-glycemic foods like refined sugars, grains (yes, even whole grains), fruits, and starchy vegetables
- Refined vegetable oils, especially those high in inflammatory omega-6s like corn, safflower, and soybean oils
- Coffee and alcohol, as these can be inflammatory too. Try to stick with water or herbal tea.
While inflammation is a part of our biological processes, it becomes a problem when it’s chronically activated in the body over and over — leading to disease and painful symptoms. Ketosis and the ketogenic diet can act as a great natural, food-based way to promote an anti-inflammatory state in our bodies.